Suicide's Sister

Two years ago, Suicide’s sister sauntered into my living room, sidled up to the couch and snuggled down with me there. It was late on a Friday evening and she held me, paralyzed, for what I think was literally hours. My husband was upstairs working late, our children were in bed asleep, the cat was… Wherever she was. I don’t remember. There’s a lot I don’t recall clearly about that night.

At that time I’d never met her before, so I didn’t recognize her. I was well acquainted with her cousins, Anxiety and Depression. They had been making regular enough visits by that point that I was used to their comings and goings. We had a reasonable agreement, the three of us – they allowed me to sleep, sometimes for three or four hours in a stretch, most nights. I fed them, clothed them, made sure they had an allowance.

Suicide’s sister, though, she had a different agenda. She really just had one message for me, one she’d been passing along to me through her cousins for a while: Why bother?

In manufacturing, there is a process that can be used to get to the bottom of certain problems, such as equipment failures. It’s called a 5-WHY. The theory is that if you ask Why? five times, the fifth answer is most likely your root cause, the thing at the bottom that you have to fix in order for everything upline from there to right itself. The trick, though, is that you have to be answering the right Whys to get to the true core. For example, if you asked “Why am I late to work?” the answer might be “Because I got up too late.” Why did I get up too late? Because I went to bed late and couldn’t wake up easily. Why did I go to bed so late? Because I was watching TV. Why was I watching TV? Because James Corden is funny. What was the root cause of why I was late to work? James Corden – it was all his fault! Sue him so that he has to take his show off the air and I’ll be able to make it to work on time. See? Doesn’t always work.

Of course, that’s a simplified example and there are ways to make an actual 5-Why more robust (and therefore more likely to yield a useful answer). The characteristic of the question “Why bother?” that makes it so insidious is that it seems like a perfectly rational and logical (if somewhat aggressive) way of determining what’s at the root cause of the question of life and the living of it. What’s the point? What is the purpose? Why do we exist? People having been asking and answering it since we became sentient.

So, when she sat down with me that evening, I’d been digging down through the levels of Why for months already. Where did I end up that night? Somewhere that sounded like this: The only thing humans need – NEED – in order to survive that is provided to them by other humans is food. Farmers grow food for people to eat. I’m not a farmer, so I have worth, no value, no why.


This is what I wrote in my journal the next day:

My words are all I have left in this moment. Every other faculty seems to be shutting down. My shoulders ache, my neck hurts, there’s pressure across my cheeks and in my temples, my stomach and my gut are knotted and gurgling, my hips ache. I can’t sleep, my heart flutters, and I’m so dizzy so much of the time that I’m beginning to worry about driving. The pressure happens in relentless waves. When the wave is crashing, I am overwhelmed and underwater. In the troughs, I sometimes peek up and think, “I can do thi—” And that’s when the next salty wave gags me.

[I’m tempted to insert some dark humor here to lighten the mood. I won’t, but it felt worthwhile to note that I resisted the urge.]

The second day out from the night when Suicide’s sister came calling, I got help. Not because I asked for it, initially, but because I was blessed enough to have some safety nets in place that caught me. Exactly the way safety nets are supposed to work, fortunately!

I’ve done a lot of work over the intervening years to make sure I’m not likely to be visited by her again and, hopefully, I’ve diverted her big brother’s attention away from me permanently. I think he knew all along that I’d never trust his empty promises; that’s why he sent a woman to do his work. Another thing that’s changed is that I really don’t hold court with their cousins so much anymore – Anxiety gets more attention than the other but I know his tricks better now and how best to shut him down. Most of the time.